Bill Meltzer: Meltzer’s Musings: Flyers Pilgrimages, Quick Hits

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FLYERS PILGRIMAGES: FLIN FLON, MANITOBA

Tomorrow is Bob Clarke’s 65th birthday. In honor of the single most important on-ice figure in Flyers franchise history, tomorrow’s blog will be focused on Clarke’s legacy and the influence he has had on two-plus generations of hockey in Philadelphia.

For today, I thought it would be fun to revisit and expand upon an offseason topic I have explored in blogs of past summers: creating a list of places to visit outside Philadelphia proper that have significance to the Flyers and club history.

One such place is Flin Flon, Manitoba. It was not only Clarke’s hometown, it was also the place where Clarke and Reggie Leach first played as linemates for the Flin Flon Bombers.

It has often been said that places shape people as much as people shape places, and Clarke has always been a Flin Flon boy at heart, embodying the values his father taught him. Bob Clarke has always been hard-working and unassuming but also fiercely (even sometimes ruthlessly) competitive. He put his team first, and loyalty to one’s employer was given unequivocally. It wasn’t so much that Clarke reveled in winning, it was that he equated losing with a fate similar to death.

The town of Flin Flon was named after the lead character, Professor Josiah Flintabbatey Flonatin, from a J. E. Preston Muddock novel entitled The Sunless City. The small mining town was founded in 1927 by Hudson Bay Mining and Smelting Company. The town’s creation came about as the result of the discovery of exceptionally large deposits of copper and zinc ore in the region.

As legend has it, famed prospector Tom Creighton, who found gold in western Canada, happened upon a discarded copy of the book in the Canadian wilderness and carried it with him on his ultimately successful exploration. He named the site of his discovery “Flin Flon”. In the book, Flintabbatey Flonatin, discovers a strange underground world lined with gold.

The dream of riches brought impoverished farmers from Saskatchewan and Manitoba to leave their farms and work in the mines of what grew into a small town (population 5,592 as of 2011). For most of the males in the town, life revolved around two things: working long hours in the mines and, for recreation, playing hockey.

The local hockey team, the Flin Flon Bombers, was founded in 1927. Now a club in the Junior A-level Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, the Bombers were once a force in Canadian junior hockey, winning the Memorial Cup in 1957 and remaining a strong team in western Canadian junior hockey for many years.

The Flin Flon team’s golden era (pun intended) spanned the late 1960s to early 1970s, when the team won the MJHL title in 1966-67 and then captured the WCHL championship in back-to-back seasons (1968-69 and 1969-70). The coach in those years was the late Pat Ginnell, who later became a scout for the St. Louis Blues.

The star players for the Bombers: A diabetic Flin Flon boy by the name of Bobby Clarke (son of local mine worker, Cliff) and his linemate, a half-Cree teenager from Riverton, Manitoba, by the name of Reggie Leach. In those days, Clarke wore #11 and Leach was #9. Both numbers were later retired by the Bombers.

Whenever the Bombers played a home game in those days, the stands at Whitney Forum would be packed with the players’ parents, friends and just about everyone else who lived in or near Flin Flon. Built in 1958, the rink is still in use by the Bombers to this day.

For both Leach and Clarke, hockey was a ticket out of lives of drudgery. Clarke, a bright young man but a poor student who dropped out after the ninth grade, spent every possible hour at Whitney Forum or playing hockey outdoors. He had no use for school and no interest in spending his life working in the mines.

The young Clarke wasn’t even especially covetous of playing in the National Hockey League; he only cared about the next game. It wasn’t until shortly before the 1969 Draft that he realized he might be able to have a pro hockey career.

Clarke came from a stable, working-class home. Leach came from a broken home and a life of poverty. Born in 1950 to unmarried teenage parents, Reggie Leach never really knew his father, who went off to work in the mines before he was born. His Cree mother soon left, too, moving off to start a new life in Edmonton.

Leach was raised by his paternal grandparents, along with twelve of their own children. They were extremely poor and the poverty was exacerbated by rampant drinking. Several members of the household died alcohol-related deaths.

As with Clarke, Leach had little interest in school and found his salvation in playing hockey. Using borrowed equipment, Leach spent hour after hour playing hockey. When he wasn’t in an organized game, he’d go off on his own to skate and shoot.

At the age of 13, Leach was recruited to play with adults on a semi-pro club. News of the talented youngster’s abilities spread quickly. Leach soon joined the Bombers, who had become the top junior club in Manitoba by that time. He and Clarke developed a friendship off the ice as well as their incredible chemistry on the ice.

Clarke was drafted seventeenth overall by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1969. Leach, one year Clarke’s junior, went third overall to the Boston Bruins in 1970. Four years later, the defending Stanley Cup champion Flyers acquired Leach from the California Seals and placed him on Clarke’s line, along with Bill Barber. The rest was history.

If you want to visit the hockey arena where Clarke and Leach got their start and see the current-day version of the Bombers play in the SJHL junior A circuit, the team’s schedule for 2014-15 schedule can be accessed here.

********** TUESDAY QUICK HITS

* Rene Levesque, a Radio Canada French-language reporter based in Rimouski, Quebec, reported via Twitter that Rimouski Oceanic defenseman Beau Rusk will be an invitee to the Flyers training camp in Spte. The 6-foot-3, 215 pound Rusk went unselected in the 2014 NHL Draft. Rusk posted 63 penalty minutes and 10 points in 42 games for Rimouski. He is a teammate of Flyers’ 2013 first-round pick Samuel Morin.

* Alum birthday: Rosaire Paiement, a 1960s-era Flyers player who spent parts of the franchise’s first three seasons with the club, turns 69 years old today. One of 16 children, Rosaire is the older brother of long time NHL player Wilf Paiement. Their father, Wilf Sr., was a former national senior arm wrestling champion.

A junior hockey teammate of Bernie Parent and Doug Favell with the Boston Bruins-affiliated Niagara Falls Flyers, Paiement was a feisty two-way forward. He played a combined 43 regular season games for the Flyers plus three playoff games.

Paiement’s rights came to the Flyers from Boston at a high cost. General manager Bud Poile acquired Paiement from the Bruins on Oct. 17, 1967, in exchange for a first-round pick in the 1970 Draft. Boston used the pick to select future Flyers standout Rick MacLeish. In fairness to Poile, the NHL Draft system was in its infancy at the time of the 1967 expansion and the talent-starved expansion franchises needed all the immediate help they could get.

Playing for the Quebec Aces (the Flyers’ first American Hockey League affiliate), Paiement posted 48 points and 189 penalty minutes in 64 games in 1967-68. He dressed in seven NHL games for the Flyers that year. His greatest impact came during the Flyers’ seven-game playoff loss to the rough-and-tumble St. Louis Blues. In game five of the series, Paiement scored the first playoff hat trick in franchise history. Two of his goals were set up by fellow French Canadian forward Andre Lacroix.

The Flyers lost Paiement to the Vancouver Canucks in the 1970 expansion draft. Seeing more ice time than he ever received in Philadelphia, Paiement had an outstanding 1970-71 season for the Canucks. He tallied 34 goals, 62 points and compiled a 152 penalty minutes. Paiement was also a plus-12 for a club that posted a 24-46-8 record.

After two seasons with the Canucks, Paiement was lured to the rival World Hockey Association. Playing for the Chicago Cougars, Paiement had 33 goals, 69 points and 135 penalty minutes in his first WHA campaign. Another 30-goal season followed the next year, as Chicago made it the playoff finals before losing to a Houston Aeros team that featured Gordie, Marty and Mark Howe.

Paiement subsequently played for the New England Whalers and Indianapolis Racers. Late in the 1977-78 season, Paiement’s career came to an abrupt end. During a scrum with Dave Semenko, Paiement got elbowed and then sucker-punched in the left eye. He lost vision in the eye and subsequently retired at age 32.

In his later years, Paiement re-settled in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. He became part-owner of a popular local bar and grill called Jester’s.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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